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06

Nov 2016

Legal Alliance, PLLC—Warning Signs of a Stop Foreclosure Scam

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Legal Alliance, PLLC—Warning Signs of a Stop Foreclosure Scam.

Two people, just this week, brought me letters they got from an outfit calling itself Legal Alliance, PLLC. (One of the two had paid them $2500.)

This letter is chock full of the warning signs of a scam.

legal alliance, Pllc

First page of the Legal Alliance, PLLC letter claims they have “experienced real estate attorneys” but they never give you their names. Odd? A warning sign of a scam.

1. Claiming to be lawyers but no lawyer names.

Most lawyers love to put their names on stuff. (I can say that, since I’m a lawyer. And i put my name everywhere.) This Legal Alliance, PLLC has no names of any actual lawyers.  Why is that? Maybe the lawyer(s) behind it has a bad reputation. Maybe the lawyer(s) behind it has a good reputation that they don’t want mixed up with in something bad. Maybe they are unusually humble. Maybe.

2. Claiming to be lawyers but you don’t get to talk to a lawyer.

Here’s a quote from page three of the letter.

The client understands that he or she may be speaking with non-attorney staff member and that in that case all discussions are for general information and cannot be viewed or construed in any way to be legal advice. unless notified otherwise assume that you are speaking to a non-attorney.

The short version of that is, you can’t count on anything we say.

3. You promise not to sue.

This is even more spectacular.

The Client hereby agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the Firm from and against any liability of any nature whatsoever arising out of, or in connection with this Agreement. In addition the client agrees to pay all the Firm’s legal costs associated with claims arising form this Agreement.

legal alliance, pllc letter with warning signs of a scam

Legal Alliance, PLLC wants you agree you will never sue then—even if they take your fee and do nothing.

Even if they take your $2500 and do absolutely nothing—and then lie about what they haven’t done—you aren’t allowed to sue them. And you agree with you sue them anyway, Legal Alliance, PLLC can sue you. 

Among other things, that provision is a legal ethics violation, in Virginia and many other states. Why would you trust someone who wanted you to sign that?

4. False claims?

Having warned you that you can’t count on their promises, what does Legal Alliance, PLLC tell you they will do?  In big letters: STOP THE FORECLOSURE SALE UNTIL THE BANK HAS PROVIDED ALL REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION, WHICH THEY MAY NOT HAVE.

“May not have?” Well anything is possible. Just  ask them, ‘can you give me the contact info on just two of your clients where you have successfully stopped the foreclosure. Just two.’ See what they say. 

They double down on that promise: We ensure they have all of the required documentation. IN MOST CASES THEY DON’T.

That I know isn’t true. And over the years, out of more than 15,000 bankruptcy clients, I’ve seen three or four cases where the mortgage papers were messed up in some way that helped save someone’s home. But that’s less than one out of a thousand. No where near “most cases.”

5. Phony time lines and useless activity.

Here’s the specific thing Legal Alliance, PLLC promises to do. They promise to send a Qualified Written Request to the mortgage company that’s foreclosing you. Sounds good, why do I say it’s phony? Your mortgage company has thirty business days—that’s six weeks, or more if there’s a holiday in there—to answer that Qualified Written Request. But, they send their letter out thirty calendar days before the foreclosure sale is set. In other words, by the time they get the documents which are supposedly gonna stop the foreclosure, they are two weeks too late.

So, they never give you any legal advice, send one letter, get no information in time to do anything to stop the foreclosure, and then? Sometimes they send you to a bankruptcy lawyer, where you should have gone to begin with. And your $2500 is down the drain.

Why do People Fall for Scams?

The purpose of bankrutpcy is to help you. But bankruptcy requires complicated, annoying paper work and it can be expensive. (In some cases I’m charging less than $2500; some cases a lot more. It depends on how complicated your situation is, and what you are trying to do.)

Some people don’t want to take the time and spend the money to get a law and a lawyer on your side. So they fall for simpler, cheaper scams.

 

legal-alliance-002-001

 

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22

Oct 2016

Debt Collectors Keep Calling Me At Work

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Why do debt collectors keep calling me at work after I tell them to stop?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from debt collectors calling your workplace.  But, if you tell them you want them to stop, the debt collectors keep calling.

How’s that?

To get them to stop calling, you need to know the right words to say.

“Don’t call me here” doesn’t work. Nether does “please don’t call me at work.” On this, debt collectors do not have to pay attention to what you want. You need to tell them your employer doesn’t allow you to take debt collector calls at work.

Here’s the right way to say it.

 

debt collectors keep calling at work

“I told you not to call me here.” Say that, and the debt collectors keep calling.

“The boss doesn’t let me take your calls at work.”  Or, “I’m not allowed to get personal business calls at work.” 

The legal authority for this is found in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCP) at 15 usc 1692c(a)(3).  It says “a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt—at the consumer’s place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication.” 

You have to say it’s the boss—not you—who doesn’t want debt collectors calling.

What Else Works to Stop the Debt Collectors Calling?

There are three other magic word phrases that work. Two of them have to be in writing.

 “Don’t contact me any more.” On the phone, “don’t contact me  anymore” does nothing. But if you send it in writing they have to stop. That one is pretty straight forward.

“I refuse to pay.” This is another phrase where it’s easy to get the wording wrong. “I don’t know what debt you’re talking about” doesn’t help; the debt collectors keep calling. “That’s not my debt” doesn’t help. “I’m out of work and can’t pay you anything” doesn’t help either. 

To all those reasons why you are not paying, you need to add “I refuse to pay.”  Like this: “I don’t know what debt you are talking about and I refuse to pay.” The refuse to pay response, like the don’t contact me response, has to be in writing.

(One of the top FDCPA lawyers in the country, Dick Rubin, told me that sometimes telling them “I refuse to pay” can really hack off them, so instead the debt collectors keep calling. But if the debt collectors keep calling, after you put in writing that you refuse to pay, you can sue their pants off.) 

“Call my lawyer”

“Call my lawyer”—those are more magic words. “Call my lawyer” can be on the phone; it doesn’t have to be in writing. My clients often tell me that saying “call my lawyer” to pushy debt collectors can be a lot of fun. (You do have to tell them who your lawyer is. But the lawyer’s name and contact info is all you have to give them.)

This only works on debt collectors

The law assume that original creditors, like the credit card or car finance company or hospital, will be relatively polite in collecting their own debts. (They don’t want a bad reputation in the community.) But debt collector want to be known for being mean; so the law protects you against those debt collectors.  Here’s what Congress said: “Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.” 15 USC 1692. 

When debt collectors stop calling, they can still send you court papers

Stopping the phone calls is only a temporary solution. The debts are still there. If you only have one debt that’s gone bad, maybe you can work something out. If you have lots of debt problems, maybe it’s time to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.

Some people think bankruptcy is some kind of punishment because you can’t pay your bills. But actually, the purpose of bankruptcy is to help you. If you have honest debts that you just can’t pay, call me today. You’ll like our friendly service with a smile.

 

Nolo has this wrong. They say, “simply tell the debt collector to stop calling you at work.” That doesn’t work.

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24

Sep 2016

Bankruptcy: Best Plan or Best Guess?

Posted by / in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy /

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: Best Plan or Best Guess?

Donnell’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy got discharged this month. We have about 30 to 40 bankruptcies discharged—that means approved and done—every month. But Donnell’s was special. He explained why, when he wrote me one of our best reviews ever. You can read it here.

 

Best plan for filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy

    Eight lawyers told Donnell he could not get approved for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I told him he could; and he did.

Donnell says he went to eight bankruptcy lawyers who told him he could not get approved for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I told him he could; and he did.

Every bankruptcy case is different.

Your case will be different from any of the 14,000 cases I’ve handled before. I want to handle it the best way possible, for you.

That’s why I insist on having complete information about your situation when we sit down and talk. Every week people say to my staff, “why do I have to fill out your 37 page form—and bring you all this other information—when I don’t even know if you can help me.” Exactly.

Until you fill in my 37 page form—and bring all the other info I need—I don’t know if I can help you. I can guess, but I don’t know. Eight lawyers guessed that Donnell could not get Chapter 7 bankruptcy approved. I knew that he could.  When you make an appointment to talk to a lawyer, do you want the easiest answer? Do you want the obvious answer? Or do you want the best answer?

If you really have a simple question you can email me.

People tell me, I only have a simple question. If you only have a simple question, you can email me. For example: Will Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge my DC parking tickets. Answer: No.

But most people have a serious question: What’s the best way for me to fix my financial problems. Answer: We need to talk. I need complete information on your financial picture to answer that question.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is serious

jpg_doctor-with-clipboard

Would you want a doctor who scheduled you for surgery based on a 15 minute phone call? Why would you want a lawyer to schedule you for bankruptcy with less than complete information?

It’s not really as serious as some surgery can be, but it’s serious. Would you trust a doctor who talked to you for 15 minutes on the phone and then scheduled an operation? Most doctors want a complete examination.  If not, you want to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer who will only schedule you for a bankruptcy based on your complete financial picture.

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01

Sep 2016

Why Filing Bankruptcy Stops Payroll Garnishment: Virginia Law

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Why Filing Bankruptcy Stops Payroll Garnishment: Virginia Law, Virginia Form

I’m surprised a couple times each month by Virginia employers who don’t know that bankruptcy stops payroll garnishment. Some employers think they need to keep on garnishing, until they get an order from a judge saying to stop. But if you read the Garnishee’s Answer Form, it tells you exactly what to do.  

(If you don’t have the form handy, please check the link so you can follow along. I’ve inserted the form down below, but it’s too small to read.)

Please Mail Checks or Responses

If you read the form, up at the top, point 4 says, “Please mail checks or responses….” That tells you right there, you can mail a “check” or a “response.” So you don’t have to mail a check. You can mail a response.

Below that, you have ten boxes you can select. The first one is “Enclosed is a check…” 

There are 9 Excuses for Not Mailing Checks

After “enclosed is a check,” there are nine other responses. Those nine are your excuses for not mailing a check. Those nine excuses are listed right on the form. They are called responses. Responses you can legally send in instead of checks.

After the “Enclosed is a check” response, look at the nine other boxes. The first one is pretty obvious: “the garnishee holds no money…” If the debtor does not work for you, or bank with you, you don’t have to send in any money. That’s clear.

The second one is slightly different: “The garnishee does not have sufficient information to reasonably identify…” If the garnishment is for John Smith, your company might have eight John Smith’s. If there’s no social security number and the address doesn’t match any of the eight, you’d select that box. (Or if your company only has one John Smith, but there’s no social security number and the address doesn’t match.) 

Then there are other boxes for: doesn’t work here anymore; the amount of the garnishment isn’t filled in; not making enough money to be garnished; already being garnished by someone else.

“The judgment debtor has filed a bankruptcy petition”

Bankruptcy stops payroll garnishment

“Judgment debtor filed bankruptcy” is one of the nine reasons to NOT send checks. Sorry this is so small, but you can see the form full size, here.

The eighth box is “the judgment debtor has filed a bankruptcy petition…” Like the other boxes, the debtor’s bankruptcy is a legal answer to the garnishment. Filing bankruptcy is a legal excuse for not sending in a check. It’s a response that’s right on the form that asks you to mail “checks or responses.” 

So if you get notice that your employee has filed bankruptcy, you don’t need to wonder what to do. Pick up the form. Select the box that says “The judgment debtor has filed a bankruptcy petition.” Mail that response. That’s it; you’ve done what the court asked you to do. Finished. You are supposed to send checks or responses. You’ve sent your response. 

You’ve checked the box you are supposed to check and done what you’re supposed to do.

Bankruptcy Stops Payroll Garnishment: Does The Form Seem Too Simple?

Even if you didn’t have the form, you should know (or your lawyer, anyway, should know) that bankruptcy stops payroll garnishment. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen S. Mitchell explained why that is, in 18 pages, in the case of Madge Lebrun. (I was Ms. Lebrun’s lawyer.) If you don’t believe the form, you—or your lawyer—can read, here how Judge Mitchell explained bankruptcy stops payroll garnishment. 

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27

Aug 2016

Fast Track Debt Relief Violates Virginia Consumer Law

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Fast Track Debt Relief Violates Virginia Consumer Protection Law

I’m a bankruptcy lawyer, in Woodbridge Virginia. I see a lot of people ripped off by debt settlement scams, before they come to see me. Last month, a judge in Fairfax County agreed with me that Fast Track Debt Relief violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

When the Sheriff knocks, is anybody home?

Figuring out who to sue in this case was a tangled mess. Our client saw an advertisement from Fast Track Debt Relief. Stacy Singer, on behalf of Fast Track Debt Relief, emailed back and forth with our client.

8-27-2016 1-52-41 PM Hoffman Stacy

Stacy Singer sent this email on behalf of Fast Track. Her letterhead is Cornerstone. The contract is with Credit Advocates. When the sheriff knocks, who answers the door?

Stacy Singer listed Cornerstone Legal Group on her letter head, but she signed the contract on behalf of Credit Advocates Law Firm.  Her email letterhead was Cornerstone Legal Group. Stacy Singer listed three different debt settlement firms in just one email!

Credit Advocates is rated F by the Better Business Bureau.  It looks like they are out of business. Same with Cornerstone. What’s going on here?

It looks to me like Fast Track reels in the consumers, and then assigns the “debt settlement” work to somebody else.

We showed the court that the contract, with Credit Advocates, had a lot of false promises. And that there was no way it could work. And that Credit Advocates listed phony addresses, pretending they had lawyers in Virginia, where they didn’t.

But could we make Fast Track pay for the false promises of Credit Advocates?

The Virginia Consumer Protection Act helped us out. That law says we can go after sellers, suppliers, manufacturers and distributors of consumer services. So we were able to keep Fast Track in the case and get a judgment against them.

Fast Track seems to still be in business, and has a B+ from the Better Business Bureau. The judge said they owed $3400.44 to the consumer, and $1700 to my law firm. Credit Advocates sent us the check.

Credit Advocates claimed they had lawyers at these Virginia addresses, when they didn't.

Credit Advocates claimed they had lawyers at these Virginia addresses, when they didn’t.

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14

Aug 2016

Bankruptcy: The Best Credit Repair for Most People

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Bankruptcy is The Best Credit Repair for Most People

Is bad credit costing you thousands of dollars every year?  It is, if you are paying more than 5% on your car loan.  People with great credit are paying less than 3.0%.  The difference between 3% car loan and an 18% car loan on a $24,000 car is $178 a month–$10,680 over a five year loan.

Some people try to fix this problem with “Credit Repair.”

What is Credit Repair Anyway?

Lexington Law says they are “the leading credit repair law firm.” 

Lexington Law does credit repair. I explain why bankruptcy is usually better.

Lexington Law does “credit repair.” I explain why bankruptcy is usually better.

They say you have “the legal right to dispute inaccurate items on your credit reports with the credit bureaus and your individual creditors.”

Is your bad credit caused by inaccurate items—or accurate items?

From what I see, as a bankruptcy lawyer, most of the bad credit on most people’s credit reports is accurate. Credit repair firms hint, but don’t dare say, they can remove accurate items from your credit report. (Sometimes they do, obviously, but they can’t promise it.) So, they mostly don’t do much good.

Lexington Law admits as much, if you read closely. They say on average their clients have “24% of their presenting negatives, removed within 4 months.” That means that 76% of the negatives are still there!

How is bankruptcy better?

Bankruptcy repairs your credit because it gets rid of your debts. The Federal Reserve, in two different studies, found that filing bankruptcy helps your credit score. Why is that a surprise? Your credit is better because you don’t have all those bad debts!

Isn’t bankruptcy is black mark on your credit? Of course it is. Then why does you credit score go up?

Evan Hendricks explained how it works in a case where I used him as an expert witness in a case against Capital One. He testified that the credit scoring models support the fresh start in bankruptcy, because bankruptcy counts as only one “derogatory” no matter how many debts it covered. 

Suppose your credit is wrecked. You have a repossession, three charge offs, three collections, and two accounts that are 60 days past due. That means you have seven derogatories, and two delinquencies. Try credit repair? On average, that gets rid of two of your nine problems. You still have seven.

Bankruptcy changes those nine problems into just one: the bankruptcy. (No, your credit history is NOT wiped clean; the bad credit is still there. But it does NOT drag down your score the way it did—because while the bad history is there, the debts are gone.)

Credit repair, on average, changes your nine black marks into seven. Bankruptcy can change them into one!

The Fresh Start is a second reason bankruptcy is better

Some of the time, credit repair does knock accurate information off your credit report. But that does NOT mean the debt is gone. 

Suppose you have a $5000 credit card that went to charge off, and is now owned by a debt buyer like Midland. Credit repair may some of the time knock Midland off your credit report. But that doesn’t help you if the sheriff bring a warrant in debt to your door.

When you file bankruptcy, the law gives you a fresh start. Besides helping your credit score, the creditors can’t call you, they can’t send you bills, they can’t take you to court or garnish you. Credit repair can never do all that.

For most people, bankruptcy is better for your credit score than “credit repair.” And the bankruptcy “fresh start” give you so much more.

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NORTHERN VIRGINIA BANKRUPTCY LAW OFFICES